Driving The Million Dollar Highway: A Complete Guide
Looking for a Colorado scenic drive? Well, look no further than the Million Dollar Highway in Southwestern Colorado. When driving The Million Dollar Highway, you’ll witness some of the best views Colorado has to offer on this iconic stretch of road.
The Million Dollar Highway Loop
Where Is The Million Dollar Highway?
Located in Colorado, the Million Dollar Highway is one of Colorado’s most scenic byways. Apart of U.S 550 and the San Juan Skyway, the Million Dollar Highway is a 25 mile (40 km) stretch of two-lane mountain road between Ouray and Silverton, Colorado.
The road winds and runs through scenic valleys that our nestled amongst towering mountain peaks that make for some pretty dramatic views. When you see it for yourself, it’ll be clear why driving the Million Dollar Highway is considered one of the best scenic drives in the Unites States.
Check out our top road trip essentials to pack and not leave at home!
Million Dollar Highway Facts
- When Was The Highway Built | Built in the late 1800’s
- How long Is The Million Dollar Highway | 25 miles
- Where Does It Start & End | Ouray, Colorado to Silverton, Colorado
- Is The Million Dollar Highway Paved | Yes, but no guardrails.
About The Million Dollar Highway
Cut through the side of the San Juan mountains, this scenic highway whips and winds through old mining towns of days past and up and over steep grades. Built in the late 1800’s, the highway was built out of necessity as a way to connect the Ouray and Silverton mining districts.
The 25-mile stretch of two-lane road between Ouray and Silverton is technically the section of U.S 550 that gives the Million Dollar Highway it’s name.
However, if you decide to head further south to Durango, the views are by no mean less spectacular. Likewise, if you’re heading the opposite direction towards Ridgway or Telluride, you won’t find a bad views either.
Why Is It Called The Million Dollar Highway?
Wondering how the Million Dollar Highway got its name? Some folks say it cost a million dollars a mile to build while others say the dirt underneath contains a million dollars worth in gold.
Regardless which version is true, one thing is for sure, million dollar views are endless on this highway.
Check out our Ultimate Colorado Road Trip Itinerary!
How Long Does It Take To Drive The Million Dollar Highway?
Now, this is a hard one to answer. It depends on a lot of factors like the weather, what type of vehicle you’re driving (car, RV, motorcycle) and where you plan to stop and start.
If you’re crunched for time, and are planning to make little to no stops, you can drive the Million Dollar Highway in a fews hours. However, if you’re wanting to take your time, explore the sites, stop for lunch, etc., we suggest giving yourself the day to drive it and enjoy it.
This all being said, taking a weekend or a few days is also completely doable given there are amazing things to see, do and explore in the towns of Ouray, Silverton and Durango.
Things To Do On The Million Dollar Highway
You have two options when driving the Million Dollar Highway loop. South to North or North to South. If you’re taking the North to Southern route, you’ll more than likely start in Montrose or Ridgway and end somewhere along the way, like in Durango.
For us, we took the Million Dollar Highway North to South. We started in Telluride and ended in southern Colorado at the entrance to Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Regardless where you start and stop, you can explore mining ghost towns, go camping, hiking, biking and fishing in San Juan National Forest and much more along the way.
There are three main towns that make great stopping points when your driving the Million Dollar highway – Ouray, Silverton and Durango. Each stop on has a little something for everyone to see and experience.
1. Stop In the Picturesque Ouray
Things To Do In Ouray
Nestled in a box canyon, Ouray’s streets are lined with historic old wild western buildings, each with its own charm and story. Founded in 1876, Ouray is the outdoor recreation capital of Colorado and boy-oh-boy, do they ever live up to that claim!
If your plans are to just cruise through Ouray, by all means, carry on. However, if you’d like to stop and explore, check out some of the best things to do in Ouray just below including places to eat and where to stay.
- Soak in the Ouray Hot Springs
- Go ice climbing at the Ice Park in the Uncompahgre Gorge
- Take a jeep tour with Alpine Jeep Tour or Switzerland of America
- Grab your mountain bike and hit the Ridgway Area Trails
- Pretend to be a cowboy and take a horseback ride with Action Adventures Trail Rides
- Go canyoning with Canyoning Colorado Tours
- Zip through the trails in a ATV with Ride-N ATV Adventures
Where To Eat In Ouray:
- Historic Western Hotel Restaurant and Saloon: Opening its doors in 1891, this western saloon has been serving food ever since. Enjoy a drink at the original bar or enjoy a meal on their patio.
- Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee: If you need a little pick-me-up or are craving something sweet, Mouse’s is your go-to.
- Ouray Brewery: Taste a variety of locally made beers and enjoy the day!
- Brickhouse 737: Serving up farm fresh dishes, Brickhouse is a great place to taste local.
Where To Stay in Ouray
- Beaumont Hotel & Spa: The Beaumont is a historic hotel centrally located in Ouray. With spa services and old world charm, the Beaumont is a superb place to stay.
- Ouray Inn: Looking for a great accommodation for an excellent price? Then the cozy, clean Ouray Inn is your spot.
- Imogene Hotel: Enjoy mountain views from Imogene’s rooftop bar as you stay directly on main street in the heart of Ouray.
- Hotel Ouray: Newly renovated, Hotel Ouray is a historic hotel that is right in the middle of town.
2. Visit The Wild Western Town of Silverton
Located 23 miles south of Ouray is the town of Silverton. Sitting pretty at 9,318 ft in elevation, Silverton brings all the Wild, Wild West vibes and charm.
Established in 1874 as a mining settlement, Silverton is a tiny town of 600 inhabitants and like Ouray, Silverton is a beacon for the outdoor enthusiast and history buffs.
Things To Do In Silverton
- Stroll down historic Main Street
- Go off roading with Rock Pirates
- Take a gold mine tour with Old Hundred Gold Mine
- Visit the Animas Forks Ghost Town
- Walk the dirt street of Blair Street (historic red-light district)
- Go whitewater rafting on the Animas River
- Go heli-skiing in the winter
Where To Eat in Silverton
- Thee Pitts Again: If you have a craving for BBQ, Pitts is your place.
- Eureka Station: Known for its Cornish pastries and perfect for lunch
- Handlebars Restaurant & Saloon: If you’re feeling brave, try a rock mountain oyster
- Avalanche Brewing Company: Sip a local brew at 9,318 feet
Where To Stay in Silverton
You won’t find that many accommodation choices in Silverton. You can choose to continue further south to Durango, or settle in for the night at the Grand Imperial Hotel, Villa Dallavalle Inn or The Bent Elbow Hotel and Restaurant.
3. Explore Scenic Durango
Continue 48 miles south technically off the Million Dollar Highway but still in the same region and you’ll arrive in the sprawling city of Durango, Colorado. Durango is a bigger city with the majority of it being on the modern side. For those of you wanting to experience the more quaint, historical side of Durango, head to Durango’s historical downtown.
Established in 1880, like all the other towns on the Million Dollar Highway, Durango has its fair share of American wild west history.
Things To Do In Durango
- Take a ride on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
- Bike along the Animas River bike path
- Wander down historical Main Street and peruse the shops
- Hike the Sky Steps to get epic views of Durango
- Go whitewater rafting with Mountain Waters Rafting
- Ski the slopes at Purgatory Ski Resort
- Visit the Pinkerton Hot Springs
- Head to the Horse Gulch Area for some mountain biking trails
- Go horseback riding with Rapp Corral
- See a cowboy music show at Bar D Chuckwagon
Where To Eat In Durango
- Carver Brewing: A Durango microbrewery located in the heart of historic downtown
- The Harvest Grill & Greens: Chow down at a working ranch for the ultimate farm to table experience
- Derailed Pour House: For epic food and cocktails with a great vibe and live music
- Animas Chocolate & Coffee Company: For a great cup of coffee and home to small batch chocolates.
- El Rancho Tavern: Have a beer at the bar where Jack Dempsy boxed Andy Maller
Where To Stay In Durango
From historic hotels like The Strater Hotel and The General Palmer Hotel to cozy inn’s like the Siesta Motel or to more main stream options like the MainStay Suites and Best Western Plus Rio Grande Inn, there are loads of options for every kind of traveler in Durango.
Million Dollar Highway Hiking
While driving the Million Dollar Highway, you best pack your hiking boots because you’ll be driving past some pretty amazing trailheads. By no means is the below list a comprehensive list of all the hikes in the area, but it is some of the favorites.
- Bear Creek Trail (Ouray)
- The Perimeter Trail (Ouray)
- Columbine Lake Trail (Silverton)
- Little Molas Lake Trail (Silverton)
- Ice Lakes Trail (Silverton)
- Haviland Lake Trail (Durango)
- Engineer Mountain (Durango)
- Colorado Trail (Durango)
Camping Along The Million Dollar Highway
There are loads of camping options on the Million Dollar Highway. In Ouray, Angel Creek Campground, Thistledown Campground, and Amphitheater Campground are excellent options to check out.
On your way to Silverton from Ouray, you’ll pass four campgrounds that are located just north of Silverton: 1) Kendall Campground, 2) Golden Horn Campground and 3) Anvil Campground 4) South Mineral Campground.
Continuing into Southern Colorado and located a little closer to Durango, you’ll find Molas Lake Park and Campground and Lime Creek Campground.
Get our camping essentials packing list right here!
Gas Stations Along The Million Dollar Highway
If you are needing to fill up your tank, make sure you do so in the cities of Durango, Silverton, or Ouray as there are no gas stations along the scenic highway once you get outside of the town limits.
Is The Million Dollar Highway Dangerous?
Just like any time you drive, accidents happen and the Million Dollar Highway is no exception to the accident rule. It’s important to understand that while this highway is a two-lane, paved road, sections of the road grip the side of mountains.
At some points, you’ll have steep drop offs just outside your window and a friendly reminder, there are no guardrails there to protect you.
Careless driving tends to be the number one cause for accidents and the reason why there are deaths along the Million Dollar highway.
Tips For Driving Safe In The Mountains:
- Do not pass other drivers unless there are passing lanes
- Do not ride your brakes down the mountain, use your shifters instead
- If a careless driver is behind, remain calm and pull over when your able allowing them to pass
- Use caution when inclement weather is in the forecast
Other things to be mindful of is the time of year/season you are driving the Million Dollar Highway. After heavy rains, landslides or mudslides can happen and in the winter, avalanches and black ice along the road have been known to occur and cause accidents, some being fatal.
All in all, we never felt unsafe at any point of the ride, but we used and exerted caution. We stopped at appropriate pull-offs for pictures, abided by the road signs, and kept our eyes on the road. At the end of the day, use common sense and your ride will be amazing and enjoyable!
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– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)